A few weekends ago, we decided to take a break from the stress of daily life and live like monks for a couple of days. In other words, we booked a stay at a Korean Buddhist temple! During our pre-move preparations, we had stumbled upon other fellow bloggers who had done their own temple stay and we thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about Buddhism and get a closer look at Korean culture.
Thanks to this handy website, we were able to see a list of various temples open to accommodating guests for the weekend (or longer). Our choice was made mostly based on location, so we chose Seonunsa Temple in Gochang since it was only about an hour from Gwangju and easy enough to get to. Once we had chosen and booked our dates, we were told to arrive at 3PM on the Saturday in order to start this one of a kind cultural experience.
Upon arriving to the temple, we could certainly feel the peace and quiet of the area. Located in a small valley, the temple was surrounded by nature and hardly any cars passed by since most visitors walked up from the main road which is about 10 minutes away. After being greeted by our guide, we were given a change of clothes to wear (the temple clothes were super comfy pants and a vest) and shown to our room. We slept in a traditional hanok building, which means we had no furniture and would be sleeping on the floor for the night!
After changing and settling in, we met our guide on the temple grounds and he gave us a private tour (since we were the only English speakers staying that weekend). It was nice to be able to see all of the different temple buildings, but we couldn’t help but feel like they missed the opportunity to really teach us more about Buddhism. Perhaps we should have done more research before going, but we were hoping to get a bit more background about this fascinating religion.
After the tour we met our group in the cafeteria building for a tasty vegetarian dinner. It consisted of tofu soup, rice, various pickled or cooked vegetables and fruit.
After dinner we were treated to a ceremonial bell ringing, which meant that the temple was letting the world around them know that the chanting ceremony would be commencing. We made our way to the main temple and participated in the chanting ceremony to Buddha with the monks. The chanting finished around 7PM and it was already time to go to bed!
To stick to the temple stay schedule, we had to wake up at 4AM…(wouldn’t decide to be a monk for this reason alone lol) and once again made our way to the main temple for the morning chanting ceremony. The monks at this temple start and finish their day with the same chanting ceremony.
Afterwards, we chose to complete the optional 108 bows because it’s not every day we get to stay at a Korean Buddhist temple. The rest of the day consisted of a quick nap, breakfast and a 2 hour hike through the woods behind the temple.
Upon returning from the hike, we had the opportunity to have a 1 hour tea ceremony with one of the temple’s monks. This was BY FAR the best part of our stay. He spoke great English and explained his decision in becoming a monk and what his daily routine is. Our new friend, Wonjung the monk, was very interested in us as well, from what we studied in school to what our favourite sports were!
Tips if you plan on completing a temple stay:
- You might enjoy the activities more during the warmer months. We found it difficult to relax and concentrate during the chanting because it felt like our toes might freeze and fall off.
- Do some research before going. You might have a more enriching experience if you do some research about Buddhism before visiting. We thought we would have been taught a little more.
- Make the most of your chat with the monk! This was the only chance we had to speak with them and was by far the most fun we had during our stay. You may even want to consider preparing a few questions in advance.
- Bring a few snacks. We found that meals were a bit far between and wish we had brought a few granola bars to sustain us.
- If you do opt to go in the winter, bring lots of layers and warm clothing. Sure there is ondol heating in your room but you’ll be spending quite a lot of time outside.
- Bring hiking boots/running shoes for your hike. We didn’t (for some unknown reason) and immediately regretted it.
- Try to unplug. Leave your electronics at home i\or in your room and try to live in the moment as much as possible. The point of these temple stays is to get some peace and quiet and have some thinking time.
Have you ever done a temple stay?
What were your thoughts?
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